It can often be hard to comprehend the crises presented through the media, the refugee crisis being one of them. But, sitting well as part of Vault Festival, taking place in the naked brick of The Pit theatre, Ivan Fault’s play On Arriving directed by Cat Robey enables the audience to connect and process the refugee crisis by focusing on one unnamed character.
Her name, “does not matter now,” as she herself says. Indeed perhaps it doesn’t matter, as this makes her take on the part of every refugee, as On Arriving compels us that each refugee has a past. The audience connects to her through her storytelling, because the usual way of connecting to someone, through their name, is not an option.
Sophia Eleni portrays this young refugee, and takes us on a journey, exploring her past to understand the place she has arrived at. The play follows a non-linear structure to recreate the structure of memories. At times, a word triggers a memory, and starts a chain of stories or reminisces. At other times the character ends a memory because it is too painful, and seemingly wakes up from the past and is back in the present.
The use of lighting, designed by Richard Owen, is used to assist in the creation of the places Eleni describes. At one point, the blue lighting with a moving shadow effect upon the back of the stage takes us to the sea. This section is one of the most graphic, with the soundscape of other voices on the boat. Eleni moves from talking about the memory of her boat ride, to reliving it. She pours every ounce of energy in as she wraps herself in her blanket. A single white spotlight focuses attention on her face as the audience hones in on this dramatic event. At other times, a green and orange wash brings us back to the present day, and helps the audience navigate their way through the fragmented structure.
The same piano music is used for positive memories, and other-worldly instrumentals represent her bad memories, furthering audience navigation. At times the audience are left trying to figure out where a memory fits, or who the character is referring to, but this enables the audience to relate to the character, as throughout both her journey to find a refuge, and her journey though her memories, she does not know the way.
On Arriving gives the audience a look into the self-imposed interrogation of the character, made clear as she sits on her chair during several sections. As the audience takes on different roles we are presented with the humanisation of the refugee crisis. This is due in no small part to Eleni’s complete focus and giving of herself in her performance, enhanced by her own story, her family having fled from persecution themselves.
Main Image Credit: Steve Gregson